Mastering the art of making great first impressions over email requires a deep understanding of how people interact with their inboxes and what will make them read (and respond) to you. And to make things more challenging, you have a limited amount of time to make that stand-out first impression. On average, it takes a person around 100 milliseconds to form an initial impression of someone.
Email recipients take a similar amount of time to process whether your message is worth reading. If your email even remotely looks like spam, or comes off disingenuous, expect it to remain unread forever.
Here are my six steps to writing cold emails that make an incredible first impression:
1. Use a Professional Email Address.
You want to be taken seriously, right? Use your best judgement in selecting a professional and appropriately named email address, depending upon the type of industry you’re in. If you use an email address like, “firstname.lastname@example.org,” I can all but guarantee your email will go unread.
Not only will your messages be more likely to filter into the spam or promotions folders, but even if someone does open your message, they’ll very quickly form an opinion of you based on your memorable (for the wrong reasons) email alias.
I highly recommend using Gmail or your own domain-branded email address, and be sure you’ve set up your name and a professional headshot within your settings. Setting a professional signature with your name, phone number, email address, andoptimized portfolio site URL is also highly encouraged — that way your potential client can easily browse your works and decide if you’ll be a good fit for the job.
2. Use Creative and Relevant Subject Lines.
I can’t stress the importance of this rule enough. Aside from looking at the sender’s name and email address, your subject line serves as the largest determining factor to whether or not your email will be opened.
Great subject lines are both enticing and genuine, while poor ones may be misconstrued as spam. When I’m reaching out to a new potential client I have a few different subject line templates I use, but my most successful one tends to be very straightforward: “(Company Name’s) Content Marketing Game Plan.” This gives the recipient instant relevance as to what my email is regarding, and it establishes that I’ve already put together a plan for them.
Remember, most inboxes receive a high volume of unwanted daily emails, so if your subject line doesn’t appeal to your recipient at first glance, then it’ll likely be ignored.
If you want some more subject line inspiration, here’s a list of 171 creative email subject lines on CreativeLive.
3. Make it Personal.
Before reaching out to a potential client take the time to really do your homework. Can you learn anything about their personal interests or advantageous details about their business from browsing through their websites and social media accounts?
One of my best long-term client relationships started with the subject line, “A Mutual Love for Animals and Content Marketing.” Because I took the time to research that client, and discovered that they post tons of dog pictures on Instagram (which I loved), I was able to reach out with a much more personal touch. I also highly recommend using first names in your emails, as calling someone Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So instantly places a professional barrier between the two of you.
Nothing shows relevance as much as a personal connection.
4. Deliver on Expectations.
Having a potential client open your email is one thing, but sustaining their interestand actually delivering on your clever subject line is something entirely different. Be sure that the first sentences and paragraph of your email contain enough relevant details to keep them reading.
A quick mention of how you discovered them, reiteration that you’ve already put together a plan/strategy for them, and statistics or an example of a relevant project you’ve done in the past (include a link), are all imperative to building on your momentum.
5. Keep it Short and Sweet.
I never exceed three short paragraphs in my cold reach-out emails. This goes back to having an understanding of how we all use email. Most of us have very short attention spans, and clients often want to skip straight to the point when it comes to hiring on much needed help.
Keeping your emails short and impactful will help you avoid overwhelming a potential client with content. Structure your email for ease of readability using paragraphs no longer than 3-4 lines, clear sections, and bullet points. Avoid long sentences as much as possible, trimming your draft to the minimum number of words without losing quality and impact.
6. Establish Trust and Credibility.
First impressions generally stick. If you can establish trust early on then you’re off to a great start. Your email needs to clearly demonstrate that you’re a subject matter expert or thought leader in the topic or subject area. Do that without being verbose or trying too hard to look authoritative; let your previous work (that you already linked to in your email) speak for itself.
At the end of your reach out emails, always include a call-to-action. What comes next? I always close out my cold emails with something along the lines of, “Please let me know when you have a moment to chat this week,” which shows that I’m ready to get started right away.
(For my detailed personal system of establishing meaningful client relationships and generating new business, check out my course on Writing a Winning Freelance Proposal.)